CHEYENNE – Sitting alongside his sisters and dad in their lawn chairs, where they had been for hours, 13-year-old Sam Gulley wasn’t too worried about the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds not being able to make an appearance for this year’s Wings Over Warren Airshow.

“We heard the F-35s were coming,” Sam said with a smile, his binoculars nearby to catch some better looks at the high-tech aircraft that would soon be soaring overhead.

Sam’s whole family (except his mom, who stayed behind to watch their dog) came up from Denver to catch the air show, and they were the first car parked in a field at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, arriving to the entrance gate around 5 a.m. Wednesday.

For many people scattered in the sea of cars, Wednesday morning’s air show brought a small sense of normalcy to what has otherwise been an unusual late July for Cheyenne. It featured flyovers by the B-1B Lancer, the KC-46A Pegasus, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the F-22A Raptor and others.

Following the cancellation of Cheyenne Frontier Days for the first time in its 124-year history, the air show offered a reason for families to gather in the area. Sitting under an umbrella to avoid the glaring sun, Ray Rodriguez had come down earlier this week from Casper to watch the show with his parents.

“We do this every year,” Rodriguez said. “It’s one of the highlights of our summer.”

His mom, Maggie Rodriguez, admitted they were a little disappointed to learn the Thunderbirds wouldn’t be at the show, but she was thrilled the show was able to continue in a socially distant, drive-in format.

“In shutting (CFD) down, they’re protecting more people who don’t always think about more than just right now,” she said, her crossword puzzle in hand to help kill time before the show. “(The organizers) are looking in the long run. We’re going to get through this.”

Across the street from those cars, several military and public officials, including Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, took in the show, which began at 10 a.m. with a flag demonstration by a U.S. Air Force Academy parachute team.

The air show, which was held at the base for the second straight year, was the culmination of months of planning by military officials. 90th Missile Wing Commander Col. Pete Bonetti said the event wouldn’t have been possible without help from the governor’s office to ensure the event could be held safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Thunderbirds, unfortunately, weren’t able to make it for some medical reasons, but we had some greater things happen ... the entire Air Force community jumped in, and the A-10s were onboard within two days (of the cancellation),” Bonetti said.

“We were worried about the hail last night, and, of course, the A-10 guys just started to laugh,” he added with a chuckle.

The power and speed of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, which can rotate at 200 degrees per second, was on full display for youngsters like George Barnes, who came up from the Denver area with his mom and dad to see the aircraft.

“(George) loves the A-10s,” his mom, Abby, said from the back of their pickup truck. “He was almost more excited that they got to come when the Thunderbirds dropped out.”

The family travels around the country to see air shows, which have been far and few between during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though there have been a few flyovers recently in Colorado, the Barnes family – and many others, based on the hundreds of cars in attendance Wednesday – had been itching to see some of the country’s finest warplanes.

“We just love that there’s an air show happening at all this year,” Abby said.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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